President Barack Obama was reelected in an Electoral College rout; Elizabeth Warren and Tammy Baldwin were elected to the U.S. Senate, Tammy Duckworth won a U.S. House seat, three states approved same-sex marriage and two states passed legalized marijuana.
The country’s demographics are changing and so are cultural and social attitudes. By the 2016 presidential election, the nation will be even more racially and culturally diverse, which should increase the Democratic Party’s constituency.
But the political landscape for progressives in Oklahoma is even bleaker than it was after 2010, when Republicans swept every major state office.
Mitt Romney carried Oklahoma’s 77 counties and won in a landslide. Republicans saw gains in both the state House and Senate, and they have super majorities in both chambers. The state’s Congressional delegation is now completely Republican. State Question 766, which gave tax exemptions to big utility companies, and SQ 759, which banned affirmative action, were easily approved.
The only state votes progressives could really cheer about were the approval of SQ 762, which removes the governor from the parole process for nonviolent offenders, and retaining legislative seats in a few progressive strongholds.
After the 2010 election, Democrats were faced with a new, stark reality about their minority status. This year, that reality got even starker. As most Democrats know, there are no easy solutions to this dilemma, but Oklahoma — with its rich progressive history — is worth the fight.
At the crux of the dilemma are the wide variations of Democrats in Oklahoma, from conservatives like outgoing U.S. Rep. Dan Boren to centrists like former Gov. Brad Henry to more progressive politicians like state Sen. Al McAffrey. It’s difficult to create a consistent message when so many different political beliefs collide.
What can Oklahoma progressives do? They need to unify around messages that draw clear differences between themselves and Republican social conservatives, who continue to attack reproductive rights for women and want to deny equality for the LGBT community. This is a long-term winning strategy for Democrats.
Some progressives believe Democrats should focus more on cities and suburbs and not work in rural areas unlikely to vote for progressive candidates and state questions. Progressives can make a real difference in municipal elections, too, especially in Oklahoma City.
Democrats could employ new technologies to data-mine the Oklahoma electorate to discover the best communication practices for individual voters. This is costly and would require major fundraising, but it could be immensely useful.
Progressives need to double down on the use of Internet and social media to sway potential voters. Does anyone doubt the power of digital communication?
More than anything, progressives need to use their energy developing long-term strategies rather than just exhausting themselves on losing campaigns by nonviable candidates.
Hochenauer, an English professor at the University of Central Oklahoma, has written about Oklahoma politics for 30 years.
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